Nutrition CAN help your immune system fight the Coronavirus

The coronavirus presents many uncertainties, and none of us can completely eliminate our risk of getting COVID-19. But one thing we can do is eat as healthily as possible.

If we do catch COVID-19, our immune system is responsible for fighting it. Research shows improving nutrition helps support optimal immune function.

Micronutrients essential to fight infection include vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, and the minerals iron, selenium, and zinc.

Here’s what we know about how these nutrients support our immune system and the foods we can eat to get them.

1. Vitamin A

Vitamin A maintains the structure of the cells in the skin, respiratory tract and gut. This forms a barrier and is your body’s first line of defence. If fighting infection was like a football game, vitamin A would be your forward line.

We also need vitamin A to help make antibodies which neutralise the pathogens that cause infection. This is like assigning more of your team to target an opposition player who has the ball, to prevent them scoring.

Vitamin A is found in oily fish, egg yolks, cheese, tofu, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes.

Further, vegetables contain beta-carotene, which your body can convert into vitamin A. Beta-carotene is found in leafy green vegetables and yellow and orange vegetables like pumpkin and carrots.

2. B vitamins

B vitamins, particularly B6, B9 and B12, contribute to your body’s first response once it has recognised a pathogen.

They do this by influencing the production and activity of “natural killer” cells. Natural killer cells work by causing infected cells to “implode”, a process called apoptosis.

Think of them like security guards at a concert that stops fans from running on the stage.

B6 is found in cereals, legumes, green leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish, chicken and meat.

B9 (folate) is abundant in green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds and is added to commercial bread-making flour.

B12 (cyanocobalamin) is found in animal products, including eggs, meat and dairy, and also in fortified soy milk (check the nutrition information panel). Certain people should be mindful of the amount of dairy they ingest.

3. Vitamins C and E

When your body is fighting an infection, it experiences what’s called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress leads to the production of free radicals which can pierce cell walls, causing the contents to leak into tissues and exacerbating inflammation.

Vitamin C and vitamin E help protect cells from oxidative stress.

Vitamin C also helps clean up this cellular mess by producing specialised cells to mount an immune response, including neutrophils, lymphocytes and phagocytes.

So the role of vitamin C here is a bit like cleaning up the arena after the concert.

Good sources of vitamin C include oranges, lemons, limes, berries, kiwifruit, broccoli, tomatoes and capsicum.

Vitamin E is found in nuts, green leafy vegetables and vegetables oils.

4. Vitamin D

Some immune cells need vitamin D to help destroy pathogens that cause infection.

Although sun exposure allows the body to produce vitamin D, food sources including eggs, fish and some milks and margarine brands may be fortified with Vitamin D (meaning extra has been added).

Most people need just a few minutes outdoors most days.

People with vitamin D deficiency may need supplements. A review of 25 studies found vitamin D supplements can help protect against acute respiratory infections, particularly among people who are deficient.

5. Iron, zinc, selenium

We need iron, zinc and selenium for immune cell growth, among other functions.

Iron helps kill pathogens by increasing the number of free radicals that can destroy them. It also regulates enzyme reactions essential for immune cells to recognize and target pathogens.

Zinc helps maintain the integrity of the skin and mucous membranes. Zinc and selenium also act as an antioxidant, helping mop up some of the damage caused by oxidative stress.

Iron is found in meat, chicken and fish. Vegetarian sources include legumes, whole grains and iron-fortified breakfast cereals.

Zinc is found in oysters and other seafood, meat, chicken, dried beans and nuts.

Nuts (especially Brazil nuts), meat, cereals and mushrooms are good food sources of selenium.

Summing it all up

It’s true some supermarkets are out of certain products at the moment. But as much as possible, focus on eating a variety of foods within each of the basic food groups to boost your intake of vitamins and minerals.

And beyond diet, there are other measures you can take to stay as healthy as possible in the face of coronavirus.

Stop smoking to improve your lung’s ability to fight infection, perform moderate intensity exercise like brisk walking or an exercise bike, get enough sleep, practice social distancing and wash your hands with soap regularly. BONUS QUICK READ from Jimmy Shen, author of the below article

(updated 3/17/2020) Dietary Response to Coronavirus Threat

Published on March 13, 2020

Jimmy Shen Follow Headman of a wild Ginkgo hamlet, East China, botanic photographer

On February 28, the first forensic anatomy of the remains of a coronavirus victim was undertaken by Professor Liu Liang from Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan. The following days saw a few more forensic anatomy procedures. The reports from these investigations showed that the deaths were caused by damage first to the lung, then to the liver, and finally to the kidneys and the heart.

The lung is vulnerable to outside attacks since one breathes nonstop. Ginkgo nuts have been regarded as a lung tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), first stated in the pharmacopoeia Shen Nong Ben Cao (Magic Peasant Herb Medica), issued in 2800 Before Christ. They contain properties which may cure coughing, asthma.., and provide benefits for all kinds of lung problems.

The lung in TCM refers to the whole respiratory system, including air passages, the nose and even the skin (which performs micro breathing), besides the lung organ. By the way, my grand uncle happened to be a TCM doctor.

Eating ginkgo nuts will make the lung stronger and less vulnerable to virus. The nuts used to be reserved for the rich in ancient times. Today they are popular in Chinese or Oriental grocery stores.

A handful is enough for a single adult’s daily treatment. Some people, however, are sensitive to even thoroughly cooked nuts. If one is not sure, just start with a few nuts. For children there is a rule: the amount of ginkgo nuts a child can eat is equal to the age, i.e. for a 5-year-old, eat up to 5 nuts only.

The nuts contain compounds that can cause dizziness or symptoms similar to drunkenness. To remedy these symptoms, we villagers usually cook the hard shells of the nuts in water and drink the broth. To be safe, see the doctor promptly if symptoms occur. *Please take the time to research the above information and consume these nuts responsibly*

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